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  Chapter Six:

  Religious Membership
  Roman Catholics
  Other Religions
  Religious Attendance
  Religious Attitudes



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Roman Catholics

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The Roman Catholic share of the national population nearly doubled.
Apart from its natural increase, the growth of the Roman Catholic population was sustained by large-scale Polish and Italian immigration early in the century and large-scale immigration from Latin America in the latter decades of the century. As a result, the Catholic share of the U.S. population increased from 13 percent in 1900 to 23 percent by 1998. Unlike some other denominations, the Roman Catholic Church counts as members all persons baptized in that faith, without regard to their current religious activity. 

While the Catholic proportion of the population was growing, American Catholics also experienced steep upward mobility. In 1900, American Protestants were more likely to attend college, and had higher average incomes and occupational statuses than Catholics. By 1965, American Catholics had reversed the Protestant advantage on each of these measures. 

Catholic religious activity declined rather sharply between 1960 and 1975, when the proportion of Catholics attending weekly mass fell from about 75 percent to about 55 percent, the level at which it appears to have stabilized during the last quarter of the century. This decline was commonly attributed to reforms introduced by the Vatican II Council of 1962–1965, which did away with the old Latin liturgy and weakened other traditional practices such as confession and fasting. In The Catholic Myth, Andrew Greeley used survey evidence to show that the decline was attributable to the church’s continuing prohibition of contraceptive practices, which most American Catholics do not obey. 

Other signs of organizational stress in the Catholic Church included sharp reductions in the number of Catholic elementary and secondary schools, as well as the number of students they enrolled (see page 60). As recently as 1960, the great majority of teachers in these schools belonged to religious orders of nuns or monks. By the end of the century, nine out of ten teachers in Catholic schools were laypersons. At the same time, the Catholic priesthood faced a severe recruitment problem. This shortage of priests was addressed in part by enlisting laypersons as parish administrators.

Chapter 6 chart 3

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series H 800; SA 1970, table 51; SA 1988, table 77; SA 1989, table 79; SA 1991, table 78; SA 1993, table 88; SA 1995, table 84; SA 1997, table 85; SA 1998, table 89; SA 1999, table 88; WA 1999, page 406; and Eileen Lindner, ed., Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches 2000: Religious Pluralism in the New Millennium (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000). For the sustainability of Catholic growth, see Theodore Caplow, American Social Trends (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1991), pages 66–75. For decline in Catholic schools, see NYT 1999, page 360. For the Catholic priesthood, see Theodore Caplow, American Social Trends (Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1991), pages 185–200. For the importance of American Catholics’ disobedience of the church’s teaching on birth control, see Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Myth (New York: Scribner, 1990). For the Catholic ascendance in education, income, and occupation, see Andrew Greeley, Religious Change in America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989).


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